SEC Chairwoman Mary Jo White with President Barack Obama. (Photo: AP)

Securities and Exchange Commission Chairwoman Mary Jo White said Friday that it was a “very high priority” for the agency this year to make a “threshold decision on whether to proceed in adopting a uniform fiduciary standard rule” for broker-dealers and investment advisors, and to then decide whether there should be “harmonization” of BD and advisor rules.

White made her remarks to reporters after her speech at The SEC Speaks conference in Washington. When asked if there would be a fiduciary rule proposal this year, White reiterated the importance of the agency making a “threshold decision” on the matter this year. This is a “primary immediate focus” for the agency, she told reporters.

David Tittsworth, head of the Investment Adviser Association, says the big question is whether White has the three votes she would need to move forward with such a rule if she were to put it on the agenda. “If the answer to that question is yes,” he said, “then harmonization issues will also be considered.”

But Commissioner Daniel Gallagher said he didn’t know whether White had the votes. “What I do know is that we have more pressing issues to deal with,” he said.

In White’s prepared remarks, she said that the agency would “intensify” this year its “consideration of the question of the role and duties of investment advisors and broker-dealers, with [the] goal of enhancing investor protection.”

The Department of Labor is scheduled to release in August the redraft of its rule to amend the definition of fiduciary under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

While White said that she “is pleased” thus far with the mandated rulemakings the agency has completed during her 10 months at the agency, including Dodd-Frank and JOBS Act mandated rules, she said the agency “must always keep the bigger picture in focus and not let the sheer number nor the sometimes controversial nature of the congressional mandates distract us from other important rulemakings and initiatives.”

During her speech, White also reiterated her disappointment with the agency’s funding level, stating that it still falls “significantly short of the level we need to fulfill our mission.” It is “incumbent upon me to raise my voice when the SEC is not being provided with significant resources.”

Given the critical role the agency plays for investors and “our expanded responsibilities, obtaining adequate funding for the SEC is and must be a top priority.”

The Obama administration requested $1.67 billion for the SEC, but Congress set the SEC’s budget for the current fiscal year at $1.35 billion.

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